The 2019 Bears ended the season on a high note, albeit one much lower than was expected three months ago, after their 21-19 win over the Vikings.
If you squint really hard, optimism can be found in David Montgomery (23 carries, 113 yards and one touchdown) and Eddy Piñeiro (4/4 on field goals and 1/1 on extra points), and the locker room never losing confidence in their coach. A couple more things go wrong and the Bears could be far worse than 8-8. The dreaded outcome of a top-10 pick belonging to the Raiders as a remnant of the Khalil Mack trade was averted, and, hey, the Bears went 4-2 in the division. That’s something, right?
But no matter how many positives can be pulled from a win over primarily backups from the Vikings, Bears head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace had plenty of negatives to answer for at their end-of-season press conference on Tuesday.
“I think every season takes on a new storyline,” Pace said. “This season was about regression, inconsistencies in way too many areas. We have to learn from our failures, see it as an opportunity to improve.”
The biggest question that will be on everyone’s minds throughout the offseason, and potentially throughout next season, is the status of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who was 21st in the NFL in passing yards (3,138), 28th in passing touchdowns (17) and 32nd in yards per attempt (6.1).
So, it wasn’t surprising that the first question asked was whether or not he believed Trubisky would be the starter moving forward. What was surprising was the answer:
“We do. With Mitch, we need more time in the coming months to evaluate everything. The first thing that comes to mind for me is just consistency. You see moments, you see games, but for him streaming together better consistency. You have the peaks and valleys. We just need to flatten that out.”
“Consistency” has been the word most thrown around about Trubisky during his career, but if this year proved anything, there was consistency: In his number of underwhelming performances. There were more bad games than good from the quarterback, who eclipsed 300 yards only twice, and other than a nice three-game run against teams that missed the playoffs, he rarely showed flashes of a franchise quarterback.
But teams are to be judged on what they do and not what they say. Mike Glennon was the supposed starter until he was invited to the Bears draft party to watch them select the person who would take his job. Pace remained noncommittal on picking up Trubisky’s fifth-year option, saying, “We’re not at that point right now with the season ending two days ago. When we are, we’ll let you guys know.”
Matt Nagy believes Trubisky is still close to mastering the playbook, saying, “What we need to do is we need to really hammer through in this off-season understanding the amount of different coverages and different looks that you get from these different coordinators that are out there. That’s not hard. That’s just a matter of continuing with that commitment of doing it, then learning how to do it.”
So what specifically does Trubisky still need to improve, at least in his coach’s eyes?
One of the things he wants to improve a little bit is a little bit of his footwork in the pocket, a little bit more trust where you’re not drifting out.Matt Nagy
All the Mitch talk and speculation will fervently continue, but he was not the sole reason for the team’s step back to 8-8. There are a number of spots to improve, and steps toward those improvements were made by moving on from offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride and assistant special teams coach Brock Olivo, as reported by Adam Hoge of WGN Radio.
As it stands, the Bears are projected to have roughly $11.5 million in cap space, per OverTheCap. They have a degree of wiggle room and can expand that cap space with some cuts. But that would require digging into the depth of an already thin roster and could include moving on such players as Taylor Gabriel and Prince Amukamara, two starters when healthy. Kyle Long has likely played his last snap as a Bear, meaning another interior spot along the offensive line will need to be addressed, as well as what happened with the play of their tackles.
“I think there’s a couple things there,” Pace said of the offensive line. “The injury to Kyle. Switching (Cody) Whitehair and James (Daniels). Injury to (Bobby) Massie late in the year. We struggled in that area this year. That’s real. I think we know it starts up front with those guys.”
Former undrafted free agent Kevin Toliver II will likely compete to replace Amukamara if a move is made at cornerback, and finding a third wide receiver to go with Allen Robinson and an emerging Anthony Miller should be easier than usual in what is viewed as a stacked wide receiver draft class. But a decision will have to be made on safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who is a free agent, and there is a desperate need for a fix at tight end, a position the Bears have mostly failed to address since trading Greg Olsen. Trey Burton was a non-factor basically all season, and, like the Trubisky pick compared to Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson, the Adam Shaheen selection continues to look worse as George Kittle emerges as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.
“I think availability really with both of our tight ends, let’s be real, with Trey and Adam, not having those guys hurt our offense,” Pace said. “Matt (Nagy) talks all the time about the importance of the tight end position to our offense.”
Pace said Shaheen will be back, but again, actions speak louder than words. There are some interesting names expected to hit free agency, but with how Burton’s signing has gone, the Bears could be wary to dip their toes in that pool to sign, say, Hunter Henry, a tight end who also has availability issues.
So, that leaves the Bears searching for answers at quarterback, offensive line, cornerback and a third wide receiver. Not great. Heck, even David Montgomery remains a question mark after averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season.
Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace will have their hands full this offseason. Though they are vocally committed to Trubisky, it is hard to envision them not making some sort of a move at the position, be it through the draft or free agency. Moving up for a Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa type is out of the cards, and sacrificing the chance for a great player for a lesser talent at quarterback can spurn teams. But that’s the position the Bears are in. An offseason of change looms for the Bears, so buckle up.
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